When Chris Anderson wrote his first book, 2006’s The Long Tail, he made some of his research, ideas and conclusions available free to readers of his blog. He was rewarded with thoughtful feedback and questions, not to mention a ready-made audience for the book. His new book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price, takes a page from that experience via case studies with a foundation of free, plus a tour through the history and psychology of “freeconomics.” By “free,” Anderson doesn’t mean gift-with-purchase; he means no-strings-attached giveaways that reap rewards through sales of other products or services, or information that can be used to build brand and customer loyalty.
The author, whose day job is editor-in-chief of Wired (available free online), explores print advertising models and their new online counterparts and also describes strategies employed by pioneers and modern-day masters of free-centric business models. For example, in 1904, Jell-O created demand for its strange new product by giving away recipe booklets; in 2008, science fiction writer Neil Gaiman offered for four weeks a free download of American Gods. Obviously, Jell-O’s strategy worked, as did Gaiman’s: American Gods became a bestseller, and independent-bookstore sales of his other books increased by 40 percent.
Also valuable: a willingness to take risks in pursuit of capturing the attention of media-savvy, demanding consumers with Web-centric lives. Anderson writes, “If you’re controlling scarce resources (the prime-time broadcast schedule, say) you have to be discriminating. . . . But if you’re tapping into abundant resources, you can afford to take chances, since the cost of failure is so low.” Sections like “The 10 Principles of Abundance Thinking” and “50 Business Models Built on Free” will help readers grasp (and apply) freeconomic principles, while sidebars such as “Why do free bikes thrive in one city, but not another?” ask and answer intriguing questions. As with The Long Tail, Anderson has crafted an edifying, entertaining read—one that will be exciting and useful for readers looking for a fresh approach to business.
Linda M. Castellitto writes from North Carolina.